July/August 2019 Issue
June 21, 2019

Member to member visits put a face on union

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
member organizing
Caption: Teaching assistant Lisa Rios-Bakari, left, loves connecting with fellow union members, like copy clerk Kaitlin Curran.

As Rochester teaching assistant Lisa Rios-Bakari makes hundreds of member-to-member house calls to talk about the power of the union, there’s one visit she’ll never forget.

Rios-Bakari, who is part of a statewide network of member organizers, knocked on the door of Kaitlin Curran, a copy clerk in the West Irondequoit School District.

Curran’s mom answered the door and was initially reluctant to let Rios-Bakari in.

“She said, ‘Does she know you’re coming? Do you know she has Down Syndrome?’”

But Rios-Bakari didn’t hesitate: “She’s our member,” she said. “I’d really like to talk with her.’”

Mom opened the door.

What followed was a conversation that not only impacted Curran and her mom, but also Rios-Bakari.

“We talked about how the union is there for you, how we always have your back,” she said.

By the end of the visit, Curran’s mom said she is glad her daughter is a member of the Irondequoit Educational Secretaries Association.

While her daughter’s employment situation is fine right now, one never knows what might happen in the future or with different administrators, she said. They are both grateful for Curran’s union protections so she never feels alone.
Rios-Bakari has had many other uplifting visits as well, like a conversation with a cancer patient who was thankful union membership provided excellent medical insurance and leave time. Others appreciated the union’s advocacy for members’ legal rights and safety on the job.

“Sometimes members are a little surprised we’re making home visits, but once we start talking they really appreciate the face-to-face connection,” said Rios-Bakari, a member of the Rochester Asssociation of Paraprofessionals.

Rios-Bakari, a graduate of NYSUT’s Member Organizing Institute, is one of hundreds of members who will be out in force this summer to meet face-to-face with fellow union members and counter the ongoing union-busting attacks and home visits funded by wealthy special interests.

“There will be hundreds of in-service members, SRPs, retirees and higher education activists going door-to-door around the state,” said NYSUT Organizing Manager Megan O’Brien. “They’ll be carrying a message of ‘We’re in this together’ and asking members to stick with the union.”

Judging by Rios-Bakari’s experience so far, members are overwhelmingly choosing to stay with their union. Of the hundreds of visits she’s made in the last year, she only had one negative experience.

“Every conversation is different, whether it’s talking about union benefits, protections or the power of solidarity,” Rios-Bakari said. “It’s been really inspiring.”

Teaching assistant Lisa Rios-Bakari, left, loves connecting with fellow union members, like copy clerk Kaitlin Curran.

Passionate about the union?

There are limited openings in NYSUT’s upcoming Member Organizing Institute, slated for June 28–30 and July 11–13 at NYSUT Headquarters in Latham.

Paid participants must complete either 12 or 18 four-hour shifts, attend a two-and-a-half day training, be comfortable using a smartphone, and be able to walk for most of their shift. For info, go to www.nysut.org/moi.

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